Pre-biotics, Inulin and FOS

By Ben Fuchs | Pharmacist Ben

If you’re a label reader, you’ve probably run across the terms inulin and oligofructose (also known as fructooligosaccharides or FOS) on various processed food ingredient decks including those on soups, yogurt, cereals and breads, snack and energy bars, cookie, cakes. Although naturally found in various plants and veggies like onions, and grains and bananas, asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke, and chicory root, inulin and oligofructose are also industrially prized by the for their ability to provide a non-caloric sweetening benefit and are most often found in the standard American diet in the form of processed food additives. And, in addition to their inclusion in processed foods, these ingredients can be found as stand-alone products marketed as diabetic friendly sweeteners with names like Fruta-Fit, Frutalose or simply Inulin/FOS.

Pre-biotics, Inulin and FOSTechnically inulins and FOS are “fructans” which are long molecular chains of the fruit sugar known as fructose. By linking many fructose molecules together, the characteristic sweetness of the fruit sugar is dampened and its spiking effects on blood sugar are mitigated. From a chemical structure standpoint the only difference between inulin and FOS involves their sizes (lengths) with FOS molecules, basically being little inulin chunks or short chains of fructose that are formed by the breakdown of the parent inulin element.

Besides providing a mild amount of sweetness or enhancing the sweetening properties of other sugar substitutes, the most notable and interesting properties of these products is their ability to beneficially affect digestive health. Technically called pre-biotics, inulin and FOS are mostly (90% or so) indigestible by humans. This indigestibility allows Inulin/FOS to pass through the intestine intact where it can then act as a substrate for pro-biotics, i.e. “good bacteria” in the gut, supporting their growth and proliferation. In essence, prebiotics, like inulin/FOS function as food for flora. This makes these polysaccharide substances effective ingredients for improving various digestive conditions including diarrhea, constipation, and gas and bloating. Also, because the beneficial bacteria that feed on Inulin/FOS produce substances like short chain fatty acids which can beneficially affect the entire body in addition to supporting digestive wellness, overall human health can be improved as well. This makes these ingredients multi-functional and supports various label claims that can make manufactured foods seem more appealing and ultimately create greater sales and profits for processors.

Posted by Ben Fuchs in Health